Weekly GDT food inventory haul

We made off a bit better than last weekend..

  • 88 Snickers bars
  • 60 Hershey’s almond bars
  • Various baby food pouches

All either on sale or for the best deal we can find.

We are learning! Combine Superstore flyer sales, order online and riding our bikes to the “click and collect” pickup. The only way to shop at superstore and feel relaxed when we are done!

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Gear Review: Ray Way MYOG 2 Person Quilt

Currently, we use two Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 15 sleeping bags. Kyle seems to have an allergy to down, so we are limited to synthetic options. At the time we purchased the bags, they were the lightest option I could find (1.2 kg / 2.6 lbs each) and we were able to purchase one left-hand zip and one right-hand zip to enable us to zip them together. Overall they work well, but they are definitely heavier and bulkier than other options.

Synthetic insulation hasn’t had too much innovation in the last few years and current synthetic sleeping bags have comparable weights. There has been a decent amount of design innovation though – namely backpacking quilts are becoming more common as well as dedicated two-person sleeping bags and quilts being available. Unfortunately for us, all the two-person quilt options available to buy seem to be down (which is great for most people!), so I started looking into making a quilt and found the Ray Way 2 Person Quilt Kit. There are also a number of online suppliers that sell the materials on their own. I decided to go with the kit option because it would provide all the needed materials (no worries about ordering too little or too much fabric) and it came with instructions and a pattern. I’d say I’m pretty average at sewing (mostly just use the machine for patching holes in clothing or hemming items) and I really appreciated having instructions and a pattern to guide me.

There’s a number of options when ordering – I went with the Alpine Insulation and Dual Colours.

The first step is cutting everything out – you will need quite a bit of floor space for this, we had to move our coffee table into the bedroom and switch the orientation of our dining table to make enough room.

After cutting everything out, you get to start sewing! I found it easier to use tape to hold things together rather the pins. The nylon is very slippery and it was tricky to get pins in the right spot.

Once everything is sewn (the zippers, gorget, and draft stoppers) it’s time to actually assemble the quilt stack and sew the insulation and nylon together. Since the stack is so thick, the instructions recommend using clothespins to secure everything.

You leave a small section at the bottom of each half to be able to flip it right side out. Then once it is flipped, make sure everything zips together properly and it looks right. Then you top stitch around the edge of the quilt and sew shut the opening at the bottom.

Once everything is sewn shut, you “quilt” the quilt and add yarn at even intervals to hold the insulation in place. The kit provides black yarn,  but I went out and bought some yarn that matched the fabric since I didn’t like the look of the black threads.

Then it is time to sew shut the footbox (if you want). This is the one place I didn’t follow the instructions. The instructions specify to basically fold the quilt in half and then sew the footbox – so you end up with a tall, but narrow footbox. I thought we would appreciate having more width, then height, so I didn’t follow this method. We’ll see how it actually works out after a few nights sleeping under the quilt. We did have enough leftover insulation and fabric that I could make a panel for the footbox to make it 3D and more box-like if we find this design doesn’t work.

Testing it out on our floor, we seem to have enough room under the quilt, but we’ll need to have a few nights outside to see if it’s warm enough. I’ll report back in the spring!

In the meantime, if you are interested in another review – Hiking Hammonds talk about making the quilt and how it worked out in their PCT Gear Review.

Gear Review: MSR Revo Ascent Snowshoes

We’ve had these for a year (we are on our second season with them), so I thought it would be a good idea to review them after we have had a chance to use them a season.

We started snowshoeing a few years ago but had always rented the shoes at the mountain. Doing this we got to try out different styles and brands of snowshoes. We liked the ones from MSR the most and started looking for a pair we could buy.

We selected the MSR Revo Explore snowshoes after checking them out at MEC. We put those on our wedding registry, knowing they were a big ask unless people pitched in. When the wedding came we were blown away and instead of smaller items our friends all pitched in and got us a our ZPacks Duplex (save that review for another post!). So for snowshoes we were left to buying them ourselves.

My coworkers we’re very generous and pooled money for MEC gift cards as a wedding gift prior to me taking holiday that year for our wedcation so that gave us a good pool of funds to use for gear. I also was fortunate to get a small bonus (in a form of prepaid VISA cards) at the end of the year. That left us with a lot of money we not only had to use at MEC but some extra to cover other gear. After listing out the gear we needed that year we were able to buy the REVO Ascents instead of the Explores.

I have to say I’m quite pleased with them!

We each got a pair. Natasha has the purple ones. I have the red.

Mass/ Weight

I can’t remember the numbers and we never did a detailed analysis on mass. We only planned to wear them for day hikes so mass was less of a deciding factor (although still important!).

They are not the lightest, but I really don’t feel fatigued with them on for a day. For how durable they are and how aggressive they are I think they are quite light.  We have used heavier ones and these are much lighter than some of the ones we have rented.  Unless you see carrying them on a multi day trip or a through hike I don’t think the weight is a factor to be concerned about with these. They are light enough for me.

Features

They are quite aggressive, as they are meant for ascents. I have had sufficient grip on packed, icy and powder. I don’t think I have slipped once in these. They have enough surface area to keep me from sinking in deep powder as well. Natasha has had similar experiences.

There is a heel riser in the back that you can easily pop up with the basket of your poles. This makes a huge difference and really reduces fatigue. Natasha’s feet are small and her boots are 3 season boots (with small soles) so her riser is close to the edge of the heel of her boots. It still works but I suggest testing the fit of your boots and snowshoes before going out for this reason. I wear a pair of Salomon X Ultra Winter Boots and I don’t have this issue.

The straps are appropriately placed and have enough stretch to keep them tight and not too tight.  The straps remain contained and don’t come undone and “flap around”.

Durability

It’s too soon to tell but they seem to be holding up. We went on several day trips last year (probably twice a month) and the most that happened are scratches due to my toes clipping. Nothing has broken or worn yet. The only thing we have had to do is wax.

Overall

I quite like them. The only reason I might consider another pair is if we have a heavy snow season prior to hiking the GDT next year and need snowshoes instead of crampons or microspikes.  These would be too heavy to carry. But for a two or three day trip in the winter they would work very well.

JMT Gear Recap: Clothing

Overall Gear Thoughts:

Overall, we were really happy with our gear and any future purchases although they will be nice are ultimately unnecessary. We had no gear failures or issues and everything worked as intended.

Hiking Clothing

Hiking Shirt

MEC Magnolia Long Sleeved Shirt

This worked well, dried quickly and kept the sun off my skin.

Only complaints about this shirt is the only pocket it has is not accessible when my hipbelt was done up and the white gets super skanky looking.

I have no reservations recommending this shirt – it’s a simple no frills hiking shirt that works well.

For future trips I will continue to use this shirt unless I find an alternative with useable pockets & fun colours.

Hiking Pants

REI Sahara Convertible Pants – Women’s Petite

These worked well, dried quickly and kept my legs relatively clean.

I’m quite pale and tend to burn rather easily – so I decided to bring pants on this trip to try and cut down on the amount of sunscreen I would need to use. I brought convertible pants since I thought I might like being able to convert them to shorts and thought it might be useful for river crossings as well.

I ended up never using the convertible feature of the pants. They dry quickly enough that I didn’t bother taking the legs off for fords and I found that I never got hot enough with them on to bother taking them off.

Some minor nitpicks about these pants: the waistband is lined in fleece fabric, which is nice to prevent it from chaffing/rubbing, but it also retains moisture and the waistband was always the last part of the my pants to dry.

The front and back pockets aren’t large enough to be useful – I never put anything in these pockets. The side pockets are decently sized though – I kept my compass, whistle and knife in these pockets so they were always on me.

Overall these are some of the best women’s hiking pants I’ve come across, but they still aren’t quite perfect.

Socks

DeFeet Aireator HT Socks

This was my first trip for these socks and I’m extremely happy with how they worked out. On previous trips I’ve brought traditional wool hiking socks, but I found those can make my feet extremely hot and they also tend to not dry quickly enough to wash a pair everyday.

These socks kept my feet non-sweaty and cool and dried quickly – they even managed to dry while under my packs raincover when we encountered rain one day.

On future trips I am considering trying toe socks out – the one thing I didn’t like was how dirty my feet got with these and the fact that I could feel dirt between my toes. I’d hope that toe socks might be able to eliminate some of that feeling.

Shoes

Brooks Cascadia 9

This was also the second major outing for my trail runners – on previous backpacking trips I have used boots.

One of my major issues with the boots that I previously used was that they always seemed to eventually wet out in rainy/wet conditions and then they took an extremely long time to dry out after this.

I found a pair of Brooks Cascadias in the clearance bin at the local MEC and decided to give them a go – they tend to be very popular with PCT thru-hikers. They are definitely my favourite hiking footwear to date. I had no blisters, footpain or any other foot issues at all on this trip.

The only thing I dislike about these shoes is how dirty they get my feet [insert picture here]

Sports Bra

Icebreaker Sprite Racerback Bra

The icebreaker sports bra worked perfectly for me – enough support and didn’t cause any rubbing/chaff issues with my pack.

Sleep Clothing

Shirt

MEC Merino T1 Short Sleeve Shirt

This shirt was primarily to be my top layer for sleeping and secondarily an extra layer if I was too cold during the day. I found it to be adequate for sleeping in and keeping me warm along with my poofy jacket in the mornings/evenings before heading out.

I would recommend this shirt and will continue to bring it or its long-sleeved counterpart on future trips.

Bottom Base Layer

Icebreaker Sprite Leggings

Again this layer was primarily for sleeping and secondarily an extra layer if I was too cold. Same as shirt.

I would recommend these leggings.

Rain Gear and Warmth

Rain Jacket

MEC Outathere Jacket

This is an extremely lightweight rain jacket. Ultimately when hiking in rain gear there is always the trade-off of getting wet from the rain or wet from sweating under your rain gear. I tend to prefer wearing rain gear since at the very least I’ll be warmer than without it.

We had four days in a row of rain on the JMT and I was impressed with how well this jacket worked. It kept me dry and was relatively breathable.

The reason I chose the MEC jacket over similar offerings from Outdoor Research and other retailers came down to fit – I think the MEC jacket has a far superior (and adjustable!) hood and it has elastic cuffs which I prefer over velcro cuffs that need to be adjusted if you actually want them to be tight.

Rain Pants

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants

These are the lightest pair of rain pants I could find – they have a simple elastic waistband and a short zipper at the ankles to let you put them on over your shoes/boots. They also have one small zippered back pocket. Unfortunately these only come in men’s sizes, but they do fit small. I got a men’s size small and overall they fit well, but they are a bit snug in the hips/bum.

Overall though I’m quite happy with these, they kept me dry and were easy to put on/off without taking my shoes off.

Puffy Jacket

MEC Uplink Hoody

A simple synthetic puffy with a hood. This was my go to layer when in camp or occasionally when starting out in the mornings. On previous trips I’ve used a fleece as my warm layer, but I think I’m converted to puffy jackets

 

Gear Selection: Bear Canisters

The two of us have degrees in engineering so when it comes to selecting and optimizing our gear we often draw on that background to help with the selection process.    When gear is purely performance based with less dependence on comfort or fit then it lends itself to that kind of selection process quite well.

Why Use These Methods to Select Bear Canisters?

While there is certainly some “soft” or immeasurable requirements in bear canister selection, they are generally dominated by stats and numbers.  The main requirements for a bear canisters are:

  • low mass (minimize)
  • acceptable cost (threshold)
  • high or acceptable volume (threshold)
  • meets regulation (binary – yes or no)

These are pure numbers and can be optimized and used in the selection process.  In addition to those requirements you should also take into account the following:

  • ease of use/ difficulty to open
  • security against other animals (not bears)
  • ease to pack

These are generally what I would consider to be immeasurable.  You can’t really grade these parameters in an honest, non-subjective way. As engineers we try, but we almost always acknowledge how much of a “fudge factor” these provide.  I like to take these case by case and not fool myself with grading these values.

Collecting Data

So to use the data to rank the canisters, first you actually need the data.  This is pretty simple to do. Most websites have this information available.   When they are not available you can pull data from product reviews or even buy something, weigh or measure it, then return it.

We collected the below data on some bear canister options.  We limited our selection to canisters that we could purchase reasonably easily as well as canisters that were likely to be approved to be used on the trails we plan on hiking.

Table of Bear Canister Data

Table of Bear Canister Data

Criteria

Already partially covered above, we have some requirements and some criteria for selection:

  • Low mass (minimize)
  • Cost should not be above $150 per unit
  • Be capable of carrying a week (5-7 days) of food for two people at a time
  • Be allowed to be used on the JMT

Selection

To select the bear canisters we generated a few plots of some parameters based on the criteria.

Mass per Cost vs Capacity

Mass per Cost vs Capacity – Minimize Mass/ Cost for Capacity Above 10 days

Starting with the capacity, we put together some combinations that could make sense based on the size of our packs.  Then mass per cost is plotted against capacity.  By minimizing the mass/ cost ratio for canisters with capacities above 10 days, this let us count how many options we have.  The above plot is a little simplified, but we could continue to put together combinations of canisters to get enough combinations that meet the cost, mass and capacity requirements. In the above plot, the orange X satisfies these requirements the best. The blue dot meets the capacity requirements but isn’t the best for the mass/ cost ratio.

 

Cost vs Mass per Volume

Cost vs Mass Per Volume – Both Parameters Should be Minimized

Next we plotted cost vs mass/ volume.  For this you want to minimize cost as well as minimize the mass/ volume ratio.  As you can see, as mass decreases the cost increases. This is to be expected. When evaluating this curve we want to ride the curve as far left as possible without going above our total cost requirement (approximately $150).  Then that option needs to be evaluated against the capacity requirement above.

On this plot, the orange X certainly has the lowest mass/ volume ratio but it also has the greatest cost.  Unless we can sort out the extra cash this is no longer an option.

CONCLUSION

When evaluating both plots together the blue dot is the option presented that has the lowest mass/ volume ratio while having a capacity above 10 days and a cost below $150.

The blue dot in the above charts represents combining both BearVault canisters (BV500 & BVSolo).

Of course the above charts hide a few decisions made based on the “soft” requirements, but they still guided us in making an informed decision.  We had to take into account availability and lead times (we purchased our bear canisters immediately before our PCT hike in 2014).  We also took into account the size of our packs, and general expectation of how fragile a canister could be if dropped.  Also, ease of use was considered. The BearVaults can be opened / unlocked by pressing firmly. Other canisters need a coin or screwdriver to open them up.  The BearVault also is transparent, allowing for you to easily see the contents. This is very helpful after a long day on the trail.

Overall we are pleased with our decision.  The Wild-Ideas Expedition (orange X above) was definitely the lightest per volume, but getting it cost $200 more than getting both BearVaults. That would have only given us a reduction in mass of 200 grams. Saving this money let us focus on reducing our pack weight even further by getting new sleep systems and upgrading other gear.

 

Gear Review: MEC Scout Zip Pants

I’m a small guy. That’s just how it is.  So when it comes to finding clothing that fits me, either for hiking or for everyday wear, I am just used to more often than not compromising on one aspect (size, style, fit, comfort, colour, etc).  I have a 27-29 inch waist, so finding technical clothing that actually fits me correctly can be a major challenge.

After years of looking for hiking pants that actually fit me, I’ve started thinking out of the box a little.  I mean, it’s not that out of ordinary, but until this past year I never thought to look at youth sizes for technical clothing.  I just never thought they’d be good enough. One day, after being fed up with my old Patagonia pants that never quite fit right and after spending months actively trying on pants from many of the major brands, I stumbled into the youth section and came across the MEC Scout Zip Pants.  I’ve had these since the start of the year so I have put together my impressions of them. I also previously wrote an actual product review on the MEC website a while back, so this review may have a lot of overlap in content.

Summary:

I am an adult male (late 20s) who has a 27-29 inch waist, and am very impressed with these pants. I did not have high expectations for youth technical clothing, but these meet most of my requirements and do not stand out as kids clothes (so I don’t look ridiculous on the trail!).

Fit:

As an adult buying these for myself I can’t say much about whether this fits true to size or not for a child. However, I can say that these fit me very well. I have a 27-29 inch waist and have struggled for years to find a pair of hiking pants that properly fit me. Most men’s hiking pants that I have come across that claim to fit a 28 inch waist are actually a 30 with a belt loop or a snap to cinch it smaller. That can be very uncomfortable on the trail and add extra weight (or extra belts, etc).

The MEC Scout pants fit more or less perfectly around the waist. I have a size 14 and sometimes use a belt, but can get away without one, especially since there are adjustment straps on the inside of the waist that allow for small amounts of adjustment.  You can tighten or loosen the pants waist using a very light, small strap and button. This mechanism is much more comfortable than the ones I typically encounter on adult hiking pants that adjust from a 30 inch waist to a 28. The adjustment straps on the MEC Scout don’t cause any bunching and they tighten the waist band evenly around your waist. There are belt loops, and the belt loops actually will hold a belt comfortably if you need one or prefer to wear one for other reasons. I wear a Patagonia friction belt, partly because the belt itself can be useful to have as an extra strap that can be used in a pinch on your pack or as an emergency tourniquet or to support a splint if you get injured on the trail.

 

Adjustable Waist Allows for Some Adjustment

Waist Band Allows for Some Adjustment

The lower legs are a little wide near the bottom, but that seems to be because they are convertibles. I can unzip the legs and carefully take them off without removing my boots. I am considering taking in around the ankle a bit so they don’t collect mud when hiking without gaiters or rain pants, but that will make it more challenging to remove the legs when I convert them to shorts. I’ve also been thinking about adding a couple straps near the ankles with velcro or buttons to cinch in the outside of the pants. Regardless, these pants do fit under my rain pants (Outdoor Research Helium, Small), but they feel a little bunched around the lower legs. Not uncomfortably so, but enough that I was concerned the first time I wore them together that they would ride up my legs when hiking. Thankfully that did not happen and these are actually quite comfortable under rain pants once I got used to it.

Features:

These pants are a little heavy (approx 390 g for size 14) compared to what I am used to, but they still dry quickly and are just a little warm when it is cool (they block wind rather well, but still breath OK). They are convertibles so when it gets warm enough I can easily zip them off, but so far this (very, very warm) winter I have not needed to convert them to shorts when hiking. Now that warm weather is starting, I have found them just a hint too warm when exposed or when pushing it up a steep hill.  I’ll need to be a bit more proactive about converting them to shorts before I get too warm; I am still getting used to having the option.

Considering their weight, it’s fairly unsurprising that they are actually pretty tough. They are not as fragile as some of my more light weight clothing and gear (and not nearly as fragile as my old hiking pants which had been repaired many, many times) so I don’t worry if I have to scramble up some rocks or even if I just want to sit on a ledge and take in a view. The fabric is fairly stretchy and forgiving. I have not felt restricted at all when hiking or kneeling. The pants are thick and a bit heavy compared to more lightweight options, but I can still pack them up smaller than my rain jacket. Of course, packing size doesn’t really matter if you are just wearing one pair of pants on a trip or a hike.

The pockets are actually very well designed, which surprised me for youth clothing. The front pockets are deep enough to fit a wallet, or a small camera or phone. The back pockets are a little small (maybe a little tight) but can still fit small items. The side pocket isn’t huge, but it is large enough to fit a fairly large, flat-ish object. Small folded maps, phone, camera – that kind of thing. The clasp on the side pocket is well designed. There is only one snap, but the pocket retains whatever you have in it because the opening is a little tight.

Pocket Design Retains Objects

Pocket Design Retains Objects With Only One Button

The bottom of the rear pockets are mesh, allowing the pockets and the pants to breath.  This also provides drainage if the pants become wet (rain, or being submerged).

Conclusion:

Overall, these are pretty stellar pants. I’d get them in a second for a youth and I am very happy with them as an adult. I’ll be wearing these on the JMT this summer and I fully expect these to last me more than a few years and many, many miles. These are not “kids pants”, these are pants that fit kids (and of course, smaller adults). I’ve learned there is a difference. It’s just too bad I didn’t think to look in the youth section for hiking pants a few years ago…

Closing Notes:

Although I have not had much success with Lululemon sizes (most of the mens clothes are giant), I recently found a pair of tights for exercising in that fit me very well. So it’s not all bad.

I am still looking for adult hiking pants that are a little more lightweight than the Scout pants. I love the Scouts, but I am always pushing to get a balance between gear that’s durable and light weight.

I love my Outdoor Research Helium pants.  I haven’t had much opportunity to shop for more OR pants locally, but based on my experience with those rain pants I will continue to look closer at general hiking pants.

If you have any suggestions or success stories for small men’s pants, then let me know in the comments! I’d love to get your suggestions.

Hubba Hubba NX – Upgrade Achieved!

We bought our original Hubba Hubba like two months before it was recalled in Canada.  We used it on a few trips and eventually realized there was a recall.  Although we weren’t worried about the tent catching fire (we tend not to cook in our tent…), the NX ended up being released shortly after we learned of the recall. We realized that this was our opportunity to upgrade.

We dug around quite a bit to make sure the NX is worth it.  After all, if we returned our Hubba Hubba we couldn’t get it back. So we couldn’t risk returning our amazing tent if the NX had any flaws.  Thankfully the reviews of the NX had been very promising.  Looking at the design changes we realized that overall the tent was improved.  Some of our complaints about the design have been addressed (proximity of mesh to zipper, rainfly ventilation, improved grommet design) and we didn’t see any changes that made the tent less livable in any way.  The NX also has the added bonus of being lighter, a little easier to set up (while maintaining the same pole configuration), and it’s also a little easier to see in the dark.

Since MEC is awesome, we called and they told us we could bring the tent in and we’d get a credit for the return so we could get the NX at minimal cost.  I checked the availability of the NX over the phone and it had plenty of inventory in store and online.

The NX sold out more or less immediately at MEC.  There was a bunch when I called, then we came in a day or two later to exchange our old tent and by that time MEC was backordered.

So we just held onto our Hubba Hubba until about a month ago, waiting for more inventory.  And now we’ve got one.  We’ve already set it up in our (tiny) living room and it definitely looks promising.  We’ll give it a go on the Sunshine Coast Trail and let you know how it goes.